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Essay for University of Washington Honors and Carnegie Mellon #1

Recently the Wall Street Journal declared, "Nearly all college admissions officials will admit that, left to themselves, most high school seniors will submit essays of stupefying dullness." This is your opportunity to prove that not everything you read is true.

Kathryn Rivard

     "You wouldnÕt happen to have any cyano on you, would you?"
     "Sure... be careful though. It comes out kinda quick, and if you need some solvent, weÕve got that too." One of the other schools must have broken a motor stick Ñ oops. Good thing we brought the super glue. Otherwise theyÕd be in a real fix.

     The front wing post is being stubborn as I try and fit it into the tissue paper tube. Enough coaxing gets it into place and aligned with the little red line of permanent pen showing where it flew best in testing.
     A half grin creeps onto my face as the little plane balances perfectly on the end of my finger, just where the center of gravity is supposed to be for the best stability. It looks a bit comical like that, belly up and blissful like a lizard. But I stop fooling around.
     The wheel and prop assembly wiggle snugly into place at the nose of the plane, and I set it on the floor while I wind the rubber band.

I hate this part.

     I scrutinize three or four loops of meticulously weighed rubber bands strung over my fingertips, looking for the one thatÕs exa-a-a-actly the right size, hardly distinguishable from its brothers, but still the narrowest of the group. IÕm using my light wings today.
     My finger skids slightly on the trigger of the bottle of lube like it always does. Slippery stuff, to make sure the rubber band doesnÕt rip itself apart mid-flight. That would be a bad thing.
     I slide my fingers quickly down the length of the loop to make sure itÕs evenly coated, then gently hook one end onto the hook of the torque meter. The other end goes onto another hook, this one attached to a gearbox and a crank: the winder.
     IÕve done this a hundred times, but I still freak myself out. Good rubber has to be stretched three to five times its length to be wound evenly. In my head, I know it can handle the stress, but stepping back six or seven feet gives me the jitters anyway. And then, then when the rubber feels like itÕs being stretched to its limits, I have to start winding.
     My plane flies for four minutes. My rubber band is about 0.102 inches wide. It weighs 2 grams, so itÕs about an 18 inch loop. With the winder, I have to put over 2000 turns on that rubber band. Two thousand. ThatÕs a lot of turns.
     The numbers climb, and I start moving closer to lessen the strain on the rubber. The torque meter approaches the ever-looming breaking torque of 1.0 inch-ounces, moving more slowly with every turn of the crank. Or, it could just be that IÕm getting terrified, and not turning the crank as fast. My every move makes the rubber band react like a snake, if you can imagine a snake shuddering with rage. Every jiggle of the winder makes the rubber band, now gnarled and bunched up with hundreds of twists turned in upon themselves, twitch and jump as if it were alive. Every click of the gears and creak of the twisting rubber band echoes in my ears as I continue winding, every moment expecting the jolted release and sharp sting of the rubber band as it
...but it rarely does. Something in the rubber band, IÕm sure, knows just how often enough to break so that every time I wind, it scares me out of my wits. Me, Katie Rivard, State Champion for going on three years running, is scared to death of...the rubber band.

     To my surprise, the rubber band behaves perfectly, and squeezes into the hook on the back of the prop. The other end of the band stretches to ease into place behind the wing, and the plane is strung, set, and ready to fly.

     The bleachers hush into silence as I approach the center right of the the gym floor. I crouch with my plane, setting it on the floor and securing the eager prop until the judge gives me a nod. Then itÕs one hand free, the prop whizzes into motion, the second hand free, and the plane leaps forward, gliding gracefully off the ground and rising upwards in a steep spiral. I canÕt help but grin as I slip backwards a few paces so I donÕt get a crick in my neck watching my plane circle near the ceiling. It never ceases to amaze me that the physics of an airplane actually works. This jumble of balsa and tissue paper can slide nearly silently between the ceiling and the ground, held up by nothing but the differences in airspeed on either side of the wing. It just... hangs. Sure, the slightest breeze may knock it down a few feet, and it may hit a rafter or two, or bang smack into the backboard of a basketball hoop, but it flies. I made it. That kind of pride is a good feeling.

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Copyright 2001 Katie Rivard <> Web Services available, email for info.